This post was originally published on May 8, 2014, to my previous website, canadianfoodiegirl.com. Other, more recent posts on this topic will follow.
To borrow from a Huffington Post article about Celiac Awareness Month:
May is Celiac Awareness Month. It's a prime time for those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (“gluten sensitivity”) to pull together and rise above the noise of the gluten-free fad diet. And while Celiac Awareness Month is an exciting time for our community, it's not just about us. It's about the 83 percent of you out there living with celiac disease and not even knowing it.
In the article, Alice Bast raises some amazing points.
“The biggest barrier to celiac disease diagnosis is its very treatment — the gluten-free diet…. Casually experimenting with the gluten-free diet could prevent you from receiving an accurate diagnosis as people must be on a regular, gluten-containing diet in order to be accurately tested for celiac disease. “
This is one of the reasons celiac disease (defined below) is under-diagnosed professionally. I've seen friends put off getting testing done because they don't want to experience the pain that gluten causes, just to get a diagnosis. I believe that if you feel better not eating gluten, don't eat it. It's a simple elimination diet. I'm not saying that you shouldn't get tested, but you don't need a professional diagnosis to label you and you don't need to label yourself. You don't need to say “I'm celiac” or “I'm gluten intolerant”, just “I feel better when I don't consume gluten.”
That said you might want to get tested because 1) celiac disease is hereditary, 2) to rule out other ailments that might have similar symptoms, 3) to know for sure. Sometimes confirmation provides peace of mind.
gluten isn't some fattening ingredient or the golden ticket to weight loss
Two responses here:
1. Processed food is still processed food and junk food is still junk food, even if it's gluten free. Follow the rule of not eating crap. I don't care if those chocolate cookies are made gluten free, they're still chocolate cookies. Enjoy them for what they are, but don't fool yourself into thinking that they're healthy.
2. I've ranted before about people who go gluten free not because it makes them feel better, but because they've been told it will make them lose weight, or because they've heard that gluten is “bad”. Those people tend to not know what gluten is, just that it's the new evil. I suspect there's a placebo effect to avoiding gluten too. That is, the positive effect comes from the belief. This isn't a bad thing. Feeling better is feeling better. The bandwagon-jumping gluten avoiders piss off true celiacs and gluten intolerants who would eat gluten if it didn't make them feel like crap. Or so many of them have told me. In a way, then, the bandwagon jumpers are taking some of the perceived credibility away from those who are suffering from the disease (or, if undiagnosed, those who truly feel awful after consuming gluten) and turning the whole concept of “gluten free” into something not taken seriously when it is serious to those who get sick from it. I've heard tales from people who are truly celiac or gluten intolerant or sensitive sometimes who find themselves telling wait staff, “No really…” and trying to distinguish themselves from people who treat it casually.
On that note, let's look at what celiac disease is and what gluten is:
What is celiac disease?
Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disorder. The body attacks itself in the small intestine, which is the site of gluten absorption. This response causes inflammation and damage to the intestinal wall, making it leaky and unable to absorb nutrients, which can lead to symptoms of pain, diarrhea and bloating. Celiac disease is genetic.
What is gluten?
I once read what I thought was the best definition of gluten ever. Now I wish I could find it. In essence:
Gluten is a mixture of two proteins called gliadin and glutenin that is present in cereal grains, especially wheat. It's responsible for the elastic texture of dough. When people with celiac disease consume gluten it triggers an immune response in which the body attacks itself, making nutrients hard to absorb. Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits.
The word gluten is Latin, and it means glue.
Watch what happened when Jimmy Kimmel's people asked the public what gluten is:
I don't blame Jimmy or Americans, I blame poor messaging and the prevalence of society to focus on “fat” instead of “health”. The definition of “gluten” is science-y to some people. Not knowing the definition is one thing, but being completely wrong about why and if should be avoided is another. I hope that Celiac awareness Month raises awareness of what gluten is and isn't and I hope that Jimmy's segment helps.
Gluten is not nutritious stuff and if you're one that prefers to make everything you put in your body count – and avoid consuming food and drink that's void of nutrition – then you'll want to lay off the gluten. Just recognize that it doesn't affect everyone the same way and don't blindly avoid gluten just because a friend says you should. Also know that it could have long-term effects
Some resources for Celiac Awareness Month:
Mairlyn Smith's appearance on Breakfast Television + recipe.
She recommends Barilla gluten free pasta. I recommend Pasta Joy.
One of the takeaways from this article: “Most gluten-containing products also have fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates, collectively known as FODMAPs, which are known to cause gastrointestinal problems.”
More detailed than the definition that I summarized above.
What’s the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? (Globe and Mail)
Both gluten sensitivity and celiac disease share similar symptoms that are triggered by exposure to gluten, but the potential implications of each condition are different.
Glutino makes gluten free products.
The at-home test for gluten sensitivity (Precision Nutrition)
This is a comprehensive, yet simple, look at gluten, Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity and overall potential impact of gluten on health.
What is Gluten? (Paleo Plan)
Paleo Plan's response to Jimmy Kimmel – because they felt that more clarification was needed.
The dangers of going gluten free (Macleans cover story)
Gluten-free products are a $90-million enterprise in Canada alone, and the sector is expected to grow at least 10 per cent each year through to 2018—an astounding feat for what is primarily a food-based category.
The Gluten Summit (Affiliate link)
It was free to watch last fall and brought together 29 experts and opinion leaders.
4 Reasons People Lose Weight When They Go Gluten Free (Fooducate – new link)
A nice succinct statement about what celiac disease isn't, the promised reasons that people lose weight going gluten free, a critique on healthwashing and examples of gluten free junk food still being junk food. Of the entire article, she loses me with one statement.
In my blog:
- Get Gluten Free education – cut through the clutter in which I discuss healthwashing and statistics, and give an overview of the Gluten Summit.
- Italpasta goes gluten free
- The $12 billion gluten free fad could be making you sicker – This is in the context of a Real Food Con presentation
- Every mention of the word “gluten” on my blog
- Every mention of the word “celiac” on my blog
Hope that's not too much for you to swallow, but go ahead and read this in chunks. Bookmark it and come back to it, clicking a link or two in one session.
Not everyone has to avoid gluten but I hope I've given you some tools to learn more and that Celiac Awareness Month helps people sort the fact from the fiction.